Ask Ceil – My Life, In Film and Song

Personal Income Taxes 2

Dear Ceil,

I need to make a video about a story from my life for a project, but I don’t know where to start. I know you don’t know me, but what event should I use?

Taping in Tuscaloosa

Dear Taping,

Well, there are a few events that every person has in their life. Birth, for example. That event is often taped. It is a story of violence, blood, and ugly, sticky children being pulled from their shouting mothers. And then, there are the shots.

Doing your taxes would be a document-able event. Hours of video of you and a calculator in front of your 1040 Schedule A while fishing crumpled receipts out of shoe boxes? This makes for compelling drama. The conflict: Is it deductible? Is it not deductible? The camera zooms in on the restaurant bill from July 15th. You didn’t write in the tip. Should you assume you left at least 15%? Or should you just go with what’s on the slip? Oh, the humanity!

If you display your social security number while you’re filming, you’ll probably be able to sell your film for a couple thousand on the black market, too. Make sure you get your payment in cash. And store it under the mattress. Along with every other asset you own.

Then there was the day you messed up the thing. Remember that? You know what I’m talking about. You tried to hide it because you didn’t want anyone to know it was you, so you used tape/glue/a paper shredder/10 paid actors/a completely new fish to cover it up. But then someone found out and guess what? It wasn’t as big a deal as you thought.

Oh, or remember the time you said that thing to that girl/guy, and you felt like such an idiot? And you went home that night and ate too many cheese doodles/ice cream sandwiches/jars of nutella/Rolaids/fish and thought about nothing else for hours? And then you called your friend and told them about it, but even though your friend would body block a grenade for you, they’re kind of stupid when it comes to girls/guys. So you decided that it would just be best to clear the air, but you continued to feel about one inch tall. And then the next day when he/she saw you at the coffee machine/soda machine/weight machine/Rube Goldberg machine, you said, “Hey sorry about that thing I said,” and they said, “Huh? I don’t even remember you saying that.” And you were relieved but sort of pissed that you aired your stupidity for no reason. That was a good story.

And then there was that really awful thing that happened to you, where you didn’t think you’d be able to handle one more second of sadness/frustration/doubt/loneliness/fishing and things just kept getting worse for so long, but when they finally got even a little bit better you felt stronger because you got through a really sucky, terrible, horrible thing, and it made you believe in yourself a little, and it made you grow a little, too, even though you’re still the same person who stays up too late/plays Zelda for a solid weekend/listens to Metallica on 10/dances in the rain/collects ceramic fish.

Then, of course, there’s death, and that’s not usually a document-able event, and once you’re done filming, you probably won’t be able to edit it.

But any of those others will do. They have a certain relatable quality.

Dear Ceil,

I want to be on American Idol, but I hate my voice, but my parents say it’s great, but I don’t believe them, but my friends like it too, but they wouldn’t hurt my feelings, and maybe I should just try out for it anyway, or take singing lessons, or quit altogether. I was thinking of becoming an accountant. What do you think?

Vocal in Valparaiso

Dear Vocal,

You certainly seem to have the temperament of an artist. Trust me. I know.

If it’s certainty you’re after, then you’re applying for the wrong career. Any kind of arts career will take your ego and grate it like cheese, then it will take that cheese and put it in the worst kind of casserole, and your ego will bake for 35 long minutes at 350 degrees F. And then some awful person will take that ego casserole out of the oven and cut it into 12 servings, and the art critics of life will eat your ego with a light, fruity white wine.

You’ll never have certainty in art. It’s like looking for cleanliness as an auto mechanic, or cleanliness as a writer for the National Enquirer, or cleanliness as Jerry Springer.

In science and math, everything has an answer. You either find it, or you don’t. Or, you ask better questions. In art, absolutely everything is subjective. There is no yardstick. There’s no yard. There’s not even a house with a halfway decent property, not for miles. There’s you and art and acres of vast, persistent doubt. Like, if you’re on a mountaintop singing about solfège, certainty is at the bottom of that mountain in an abbey discussing why you’re such a problem.

So here are some questions to ask yourself about your best career fit:

Are you willing to work all freaking day to improve your voice, all the while not knowing where your career is actually going, thumbing your nose at the jealous, under-talented, armchair critics, most likely for a career involving years of scrapping for cash, bar owners who won’t pay you, and inconsistent hours, only to see your value diminish as you age.. .but also for the utter Nirvana that is performance, art, and entertaining?

Or are you good with math and money, and you like working 8–5, a pretty decent paycheck with a 401(k), health benefits and the possibility of climbing the corporate ladder–and you’re oblivious or indifferent to office politics, misogyny, suits, and soullessness? Do you like your surroundings to be small and rectangular, and it’s ok to hear the sound of your very lifeblood being drained as each hour passes while you remain, slowly yellowing, in front of the computer screen?

Or, are you the rare “accountant-singer”? Are you able to be a competent cubicle denizen and affable project co-sponsor during the day, and then turn into a dazzling, talented siren, wearing the evening gown you tucked in your briefcase by night? Can you subsist on little sleep, negotiating meeting difficulties, then brokering bandmate arguments after your dinner of fast food takeout and box wine, knowing that you’ll be working on the Henderson files first thing in the morning?

Whenever I’m in doubt I always go for both. Be an accountant. Be a singer.

Whatever you end up doing, make sure you film it.

Dear Ceil,

You left without saying goodbye, even to the children. Why did you?

Stunned in Saltzburg

Dear Stunned,

Please don’t ask me. Anyway, the reason no longer exists.


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